The value of Venezuela’s currency plummeted to record lows on the black market last week, with 100 ‘strong’ bolivars exchanging for $1 (ten times lower than the official rate), and annual price inflation reaching 63%. Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, continuing to denounce the “capitalist economic war” on his socialist regime, now blames airlines for trying to collect ticket revenues the government isn’t able to pay. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan economy is showing symptoms of a rapidly forming crack-up boom: shortage of basic amenities, power outages, depletion of dollar reserves by 30%, and looming debt default. As people scramble to exchange paper money for anything and everything that can still be found on store shelves, “over there”—say their Columbian neighbors just across the border—“there’s no food.”
The ‘final and total catastrophe of the currency system’—as Mises called the terminus point of any sustained inflation—was in fact brewing in Venezuela long before Maduro’s regime, and the country experienced even higher price inflation in late 1990s. But because people held the belief that prices might fall at some point in the future, and continued to increase or maintain their cash balances, the earlier stages of the inflationary process were drawn out over many years. However, two Caracas entrepreneurs have warned that it is now too late for the government to salvage anything: “people clearly haven’t had confidence in [the bolivar] for decades; and even less now… It doesn’t look like the market has much confidence in the government’s ability to get things under control”.